Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Go Grandriders 不老騎士

I saw that 不老騎士:歐兜邁環台日記 Go Grandriders (2012) was on Kanopy and asked our school library to order it. I'm thinking of using it in my Travel Writing class in the fall as a look into another perspective on travel by looking at what motivates the elderly people in this documentary (averaging over 80 years old) to go on a motorcycle trip around Taiwan. The movie came out about a year after I left Taiwan, but evidently it was filmed in 2007, while I was still there. For some reason, though, I don't recall hearing about this trip while I was there (though I imagine it was in the news). And I only had a vague recollection of the film before I "discovered" it on Kanopy. Here's the trailer for the movie:

As you can see from the trailer, the film is somewhat sentimental. Reviews that I read of the movie ranged from Miriam Bale's snarky and dismissive hit piece to slightly more appreciative pieces, like Justin Chang's review that calls the movie "warmly ingratiating" while admitting that the movie is somewhat superficial and at times "unexciting."

But I wonder how the film plays to different audiences. It seems to have been well-received in Taiwan, as well as in Hong Kong and South Korea (Chinese Wikipedia). It touches on some aspects of Taiwanese modern history, particularly the Japanese colonial period when some of the riders had been police or on opposing sides of the war between Japan and China. It might be that a reaction like Bale's is due at least in part to not understanding the whole context of the film. Bale claims (she doesn't support the statement, so I can't call it an argument) that what she calls "mystery" in the film comes "mostly from omission in the sometimes inept storytelling." But my guess is that anyone familiar with Taiwan's history--the primary audience of the film--would not find much mysterious about it. When one of the riders, a former Nationalist Chinese soldier, says that another rider, a Taiwanese lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese army, used to be enemies but that "a smile between brothers can melt enmity"(兄弟一笑泯恩仇), this seems no mystery to me (the question then being whether it's the director's responsibility to spoonfeed Taiwanese history to an American viewer like Bale).

It might be, too, that the style of the movie is also more suitable for some East Asian audiences than for American audiences. That's certainly a possibility, given the fact that the film was a winner at the Asian American International Film Festival and was nominated at the 17th Busan International Film Festival and the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. However, it's also interesting to observe that the most positive review I saw published was by Frank Scheck, in which he concludes,
The filmmaker documents the proceedings in refreshingly matter-of fact-fashion, thankfully avoiding the temptation to overly sentimentalize or mine cheap humor and contrived suspense from the proceedings. It somehow seems doubtful that an American director would have shown such restraint.
I don't know much about Scheck besides the fact that he's described as an "American film critic," but he has a more understanding perspective on the film than Bale.

At any rate, I'll be interested to see how students in my Travel Writing online class respond to the movie. I'm putting together some questions for them to think about regarding the role of place vs. the role of the journey in the film. I'll have to think more about the questions, which will probably involve watching it again. Pass the Kleenex, please!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Finished reading Before the Storm

So I decided that instead of feeding my rage over what's going on currently, I'd give myself a chance to rage about the past. I just finished Rick Perlstein's 2001 history of '60s conservatism, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.

Like the other two Perlstein books that I've read (Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge), this book was packed with historical details of famous, infamous, and little-known events and people, seemingly culled (by Perlstein or his research assistants) from newspapers of every size across the US. In with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the candidacy of Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith (the first woman to run for president as part of a major party), and the murder of Kitty Genovese are such details as the number of African American journeymen in the Brooklyn plumbers' local ("three ... out of several thousand members" [236]), the rise of businesses and products catering to fears of nuclear war (like "'Foam-Ettes--the Toothpaste Tablet You Can Use ANYTIME, ANYWHERE--WHEREVER YOU ARE, even in a family fallout shelter' [143]"), and the origins of the boysenberry and its relationship to the growth of conservatism.

Unfortunately, some of Before the Storm is as hard to read as that previous sentence probably was. Like a lot of readers (at least judging from the book's reviews on Amazon), I came to this book last, after having read Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge. Reading the books out of order like this, I can see how Perlstein's style has (fortunately) developed. Like the later books, this one sometimes takes detours in the narrative to bring readers up to date about a figure, trend, or other historical development that is important to the overall story. At times, however, the detours were not accompanied with proper signage and I found myself lost when I was back on the main road. At times I'd be reading along and suddenly come along a sentence like, "By July, ..." and wonder, "July of what year?"

Overall, though, I learned a lot from this book. It even clued me in on a 1953 executive order signed by Eisenhower "demanding homosexuals be fired not just from all federal jobs bur from all companies with federal contractors--one-fifth of the U.S. workforce" (490). This order, Executive Order 10450, was interesting to me as it seems to have formed part of the context in which George Kerr was forced to resign from his work at Stanford with the International Cooperation Administration. (See my brief bio of Kerr in the Camphor Press edition of Formosa Betrayed.)

I see that Perlstein has a new volume coming out in August: Reaganland. I'm looking forward to it, but considering that the Amazon website says it's 1040 pages long, it'll be a while before I get to it...

Monday, April 27, 2020

A break from COVID and CANVAS

I was going to post a thoughtful note on George H. Kerr's perspective on the April 24, 1970 assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo, but I'm burned out on COVID-19 news and transferring my Blackboard materials to Canvas for my first summer class that begins May 4. So I'm going to relax with this video, which I just encountered. Apologies if you've seen it before:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


This is the term I came up with this morning to describe how I lurch from one anger-inducing news story to another about the intersection of politics and COVID-19 (and, sometimes, bad reporting).* I imagine I'm not the only person who does this. I've seen the term "doomsurfing," but that describes something a bit different--as Kevin Roose defines it, doomsurfing consists of "falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating [one]self to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep." Ragesurfing, perhaps a subspecies of doomsurfing, is characterized by the active pursuit of news articles that you know will make you angry and a descent into the rabbit hole of reading the comments on stories or social media posts with an emphasis on the ones that you strongly disagree with or that are dismissive or insulting to your perspective. "I knew there would be some idiots who would agree (or disagree, as the case may be) with this posting!" you say, vindicated in your belief that not everyone on the internet is as enlightened as you (OK, this is about me), at the same time growing more and more angry and despairing at how stupid and/or evil "they" are.

I'm not sure what motivates ragesurfing; Roose, in another article, argues that what he calls "machine drift" happens when our thoughts and emotions are influenced by our online experiences through "a combination of humans and sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence." He quotes the adage that "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." His objective is to explore how our tools shape us, which, if you believe that ragesurfing is a result of being manipulated by our tools, seems an important consideration. Maybe his podcasts will shed some light on this phenomenon (though he'll probably end up giving it another name that will stick better than "ragesurfing," which will probably make me even madder).

Note that ragesurfing doesn't imply engaging those other points of view, though I guess it doesn't preclude engagement. Personally, I don't have a Twitter or Facebook account, so my consumption of social media is strictly from the sidelines. This might enhance the feelings of impotent rage--Roose suggests that "using social media actively makes us feel better than consuming it passively," but I have no intention of diving into the volcano just because I'm burning my feet by dancing around the edge.

I suppose that ragesurfing, unlike doomsurfing as it's currently being used, does not have to be concerned only with coronavirus-related content. However, it makes sense that it would surface now, when I'm stuck at home, sitting in front of the computer or staring at my phone way too much.

I need to get back to grading right now, so I'm just going to post this as a "half-formed thought." I'll try to stay away from my usual grazing locations. Like a cow that eats too much lush green grass in the spring, I'm liable to start staggering around and fall over. (That simile probably proves I'm a suburbanite.)

*Update: I found the hashtag "#RageSurfing used once in a late 2018 tweet:

Doesn't seem to be exactly what I mean by the term, though... "Ragesurf" also comes up, as in this tweet:

Still doesn't seem to mean the same thing.

I'm supposed to be grading...

Saturday, April 18, 2020

My son's first book

My son has gotten into writing books now. His writing looks like a flock of birds, and he glues the pages together so they form sort of a long wallpaper-like thing. Maybe a scroll, except that he doesn’t roll it up.

It’s all about Thomas and Friends, of course. The trains look like alien heads with big eyes on top of long footless legs (which are actually wheels). Then he draws the tracks and writes the text (see the left-hand side.) He could write some real letters if he wanted to, but I’m not going to rush him. He finished one book last night and got to work on another one today. I wish I had his energy. He calls them “Awdry books,” so I guess they’re based on the books the Rev. W. Awdry wrote back in the day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Clearing out yesterday's fallen branches

Yesterday a big storm came through, with heavy rain and strong winds that tossed branches around the yard and even cut out our power for about 45 minutes.  (We were lucky on both counts--other people in the state had trees fall on their houses or lost power for much longer times.) Today was a reasonably nice day, so this afternoon my five-year-old and I went out to clean up the fallen branches that were scattered all over the yard.

My son alternated between picking up branches to put in my wheelbarrow and playing with his wooden Thomas trains; sometimes his trains helped carry the branches over. Henry, the big green tender engine, was especially helpful. While we worked on collecting the branches, we discussed Henry--his helpful but sometimes "arrogant and vain" personality (as my son described it), his fear of rain, of wind, and of heights. Every once in a while it amazes me not just that he's talking so much, but that we have things to talk about (though our most content-rich conversations seem to circulate around Thomas and his friends, which I know more about now than I ever wanted to).

Of course, now that we have all of these branches, I have to figure out how to get them to the dump on Saturday...

Monday, April 13, 2020

Light at the end of the tunnel...

... for this semester, anyway. This week is the last week of classes, and I'm finishing up reading drafts of Travel Writing portfolios right now. I've made everything due at the end of the week so I can get caught up on grading the "little" things and attending to last-minute student questions.

It has been interesting teaching all of my courses online this semester. The confused feeling that a lot of people have been having the past few weeks--not knowing when the work day begins or ends, not even knowing what day of the week it is--has been my experience since January, so I've more-or-less gotten used to it. While I have missed a lot of face-to-face interaction that happens when I'm in the office more frequently, the sense of FOMO has slowly faded. (Probably in part because the school has been closed for about a month.) I do still have the weird feeling that time has stretched out--the beginning of the semester, the impeachment of old what's-his-hair, and all the other pre-COVID-19 events of 2020 seem to have taken place years ago.

No recommendations for people working from home as a result of this--I'm not in the business of giving advice on this blog (at least not purposely). In this case, I'm probably not a good model of how to work from home, at least if you read the advice other people give. It's 3:30 in the afternoon right now, I'm sitting on the sofa with a blanket over me and I haven't showered yet today. The TV is on to Paw Patrol (not for me) and my son is still in his pajamas and getting muffin crumbs all over the sofa. No role model here...